Marcia Clark is best known as the lead prosecutor in the 1995 trial of O.J. Simpson who was charged with killing his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman. After Simpson was acquitted, Clark was criticized for botching the case. In the 2016 TV series, The People v. O.J. Simpson, Clark was played by Sarah Paulson who won several awards for her performance. That sensitive portrayal by Paulson has softened past criticism of Clark. But Clark had already worked to reinvent herself as a TV commentator and as an author, first with Without a Doubt, written with Teresa Carpenter, which rehashed the Simpson case. And then with several novels, the Rachel Knight series, which centers on a prosecutor in the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office, and the Samantha Brinkman series, focusing on a defense attorney.
Snap Judgment is the third in the Brinkman series and I confess this is the first one of Clark’s novels that I’ve read. It won’t be the last. She manages to create interesting characters and several plot lines that evolve over the course of the book, keeping the pages turning. No doubt, like other prosecutors turned mystery writers, she is able to draw on her past experiences to produce compelling stories.
Brinkman has a backstory that Clark conveys without interrupting the narrative flow. Her mother, Celeste, a social climber if there ever was one, was living with a billionaire, Sebastian Cromer, who repeatedly raped Brinkman during her junior year in high school. Samantha also discovered that her birthfather, Dale, was still alive and an LAPD detective. Samantha no longer speaks to Celeste.
Unless a defense attorney takes on high profile cases, the monetary rewards are slim. As a result, Samantha’s office is bare bones and she employs a skeleton staff of Michy, her receptionist and office manager, and Alex, her investigator and a computer whiz. When Samantha hears that Alicia, the daughter of a prominent lawyer, Graham Hutchins, has been found with her throat slashed, news reports hint that Alicia’s ex-boyfriend, Roan, may be responsible. After Alicia broke up with Roan, nude photos of her began to appear on pornographic websites, Roan the likely source. But when Roan also is found dead, the police now have a reason to consider Graham a person of interest. Suddenly, Brinkman finds herself with a case that might even allow her to furnish her waiting room.
She and Alex are soon spending time on the USC campus, interviewing Alicia’s friends, some of whom are less than forthcoming. Graham, too, has secrets, and Samantha has to try to protect her client without his help.
Although she has her hands full with Graham’s case, Samantha also must contend with a gang leader. Javier Cabazon has something he can use against both Dale and Samantha and he has returned for his pound of flesh. Cabazon’s nephew is being charged with murder and the one witness, a young woman, has disappeared. Cabazon wants her found. Samantha can fill in the blanks. Joining forces with Dale, she has to come up with a plan to satisfy Cabazon without jeopardizing the witness.
While the mystery of who killed Alicia is solved, other plot threads are left dangling. Will Samantha and Dale manage to create a father-daughter relationship? Will Celeste resurface and wreak havoc on Samantha’s life? (I assume she has in the past.) Chances are Samantha also hasn’t seen the last of Cabazon.
Samantha is carrying around a lot of baggage from her unhappy home life and self-medicates with tequila. While there’s mention of a boyfriend, he doesn’t materialize and even though Alex is drop-dead gorgeous, he’s also gay with a new boyfriend. Samantha comes across as a survivor, but one who isn’t afraid to break the rules or the law. Somehow that makes her more interesting and sympathetic and someone we like spending time with.
Author photo: Coral von Zumwalt